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A Reminder To Delete What’s On Your Old USB Sticks

New research shows that a large number of people don’t realise the dangers of leaving information on old USB sticks. In a recent study, 200 USB drives (half from the US and the other half from the UK) were purchased second-hand. Scarily, one in five of the devices studied contained information that identified the owner.

Written by Adam Bovan

April 2019

Delete What's On Your Old USB Sticks

Meanwhile, researchers found an abundance of sensitive files passport details, tax returns, wage slips and risk assessment documents and even explicit imagery. Almost 50% of past users had attempted to delete the files, but this data was easily retrieved. Some users had even gone to the lengths of formatting the device, but this still wasn’t enough to totally wipe it clean.

The investigation revealed two crucial points:

  • Some don’t understand the risks of leaving data on flash drives.
  • Those who do understand the risks of leaving data on flash drives are not fully deleting their data.

“Delete” doesn’t really mean delete.

Erasing your data is – unfortunately – not as straightforward as dragging it into your trash can. It’s not even as simple as hitting “Empty Trash”.

Data and files are not permanently deleted when you do this and can be swiftly recovered by someone who knows a thing or two about computers.

Memory sticks are designed in this way for a few reasons.

Firstly, so you can recover files that are accidentally deleted. Secondly, so everything runs more efficiently – it’s faster to delete a file entry to make space rather than remove the file completely.

How do I delete data from a USB stick?

To sufficiently remove all data from your device, you can use an app or piece of software.

Some recommendations include Secure Eraser and Shreddit (for Android) CCleaner (for Windows) and Stellar Wipe Mac (for Apple users).

This article walks you through which app would suit you best depending on your needs.

What are my other options?

At the very least, your stick should be formatted. But, as this study has shown, this isn’t always a failsafe option.

If you really need to destroy the data – and you don’t need to reuse the stick – you can physically destroy it!

Another option is to encrypt the data. Encryption – or scrambling your files – is especially useful if you plan on reusing the stick and you’re merely loaning it to someone else within your organisation.

Be cautious about what you save on a USB.

If you’re still using memory sticks, you need to be careful about what you save on them.

Of course, no one is going to find nude images of you on there if you never kept them there in the first place!

No, but in all seriousness, if you must use a flash drive, avoid sensitive information that hackers would love to get their hands on.

Back up any files you put on a USB.

For any files you do save to a USB, follow the 3-2-1 method. Make three copies of your data on two different types of storage device, with one copy stored away from your office.

Ditch the USB altogether and use the cloud.

Saving files to flash drives can result in so many headaches; security being the biggest, followed by versioning and missing data due to loss or damage of the stick.

Move away from the memory stick and say hello to a cloud service, such as OneDrive, Google Drive or DropBox.

But, of course, ensure there’s no way someone can access your data from an old USB before you chuck it out…

If you’d like more information about data storage, or how to wipe your USB drives, contact us today and we’d be happy to help. 

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